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Striking images of Irish traveller children

These stunning black-and-white photographs offer a unique glimpse into the lives of traveller children in Ireland.  

American photographer Jamie Johnson has been travelling around the world for 20 years and is best known for her portraits of children.

Johnson has released a new book, entitled ‘Growing Up Travelling: The Inside World of Irish Traveller Children’, which shows girls no older than eight posing with cigarettes and holding designer bags, a boy holding his fist in a fighting pose, and young girls wearing make-up and glamorous clothes. The photographer contacted MailOnline to insist that the cigarettes were not real. 

When she came to Ireland for the first time in 2014, she immediately felt connected to the Irish Traveller community and would visit and photograph them time and again for five years.  

The photographs were taken in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Tipperary, Ireland. 

In a previous interview with Mail Online, Johnson said that after living alongside the traveller community she came away with the impression of a ‘very proud’ group of people, who are strong in their faith and their commitment to family.  

There are an estimated 25,000 travellers in Ireland, who have a history in culture dating back to pre-Celtic times.

An extract from the book explains the origins of Traveller culture and their role in contemporary Irish society. 

‘Travellers are members of a historically nomadic and non-literate ethnic minority that has existed on Ireland’s margins for centuries,’ the book reads. 

‘As a result of decades of pressure from the Irish authorities, Travellers today tend to live in houses in Irish towns and cities, though some still ‘halt’ (settle seasonally, either legally or illegally) in caravans or other mobile structures for some or most of the year in both serviced and unserviced sites on the urban periphery. 

‘Nevertheless, and because of the distinct cultural practices the tradition of travelling accreted over many generations, the term ‘Traveller’ is applicable even when the nomadic way of life has effectively been abandoned. 

‘The 2016 Census for the Republic of Ireland documents a population of 30,987 Irish Travellers, representing 0.7 per cent of the general population. For many generations, Travellers provided seasonal farm labour, horse-trading, hawking, entertainment and smithing services to both urban and rural populations. 

‘These functions held a good degree of value in an earlier Ireland in which rural communities were isolated and in which the uses that might be made of urban space were less restricted. 

‘Contemporary Travellers share common descent and history and possess discrete cultural practices: boundary rules against outsiders, strict gender roles, an aspiration to be mobile, an adaptive tradition of self-employment and involvement in marginal trades, a preference for flexibility of occupation over job security, a pattern of providing short-term labour in accordance with market demands, adherence to Catholicism involving public displays of religiosity, early school-leaving, early marriage and substantial dowry payments when the families are affluent, unique material and oral cultures, a tradition of meeting with other Travellers at certain major annual festivals, and distinct rituals of death and cleansing. ‘ 

Many of the pictures were taken at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair and Festival, which attracts travellers from all over Ireland and Europe to trade puppies and horses. 

The fair represents an opportunity for teenaged travellers to meet their future spouses, and in one photograph a pair of girls are seen meticulously applying each others makeup so that they look their best in case they happen to meet their future husband.  

Jamie told Mail Online: ‘They hope to find good husbands for their daughters in their community to carry on travellers traditions.

‘This warm generous family-orientated community seeks good lives for their children, and has great hopes for their community.’ 

The photographer spent time getting to know the families, at first gaining their trust with ‘a few introductions and lots of smiling’.

She spent some time shopping with the women and playing with the children – even letting them try out her fancy cameras.

‘The community works to carry on their family culture and traditions through many generations by telling all the wonderful stories of their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ travels,’ she said.

‘They seek equality and hope to rid of for the next generation of the extreme prejudice that has faced theirs.’

To see more of Jamie’s work, vist: 

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